Perhaps the greatest surprise of UEFA Women's EURO 2013 was not Denmark's run to the semi-finals, nor Norway beating Germany in the group stage, but Austria reaching the qualifying play-offs.
Austria had seldom threatened to get to a major final tournament, yet an impressive 3-2 win in the Czech Republic followed by a 3-1 defeat of Denmark took them to the play-offs, only just missing finishing as best runners-up on goal difference. Russia were to deny them 3-1 on aggregate, though hopes were high for 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup qualification where a loss in Finland and home reverse to France have them third in Group 7.
As they prepare to welcome Bulgaria on Saturday, four days before visiting Les Bleues, prolific SV Neulengbach striker Nina Burger – who scored six times in Sweden 2013 qualifying – told UEFA.com about their mixed fortunes so far and immediate aims.
UEFA.com: How would you evaluate the qualifying round so far?
Nina Burger: It has been up and down. We've played well and been successful against the weaker-ranked teams, but against France we knew it would be difficult to win points. We analysed the 3-1 defeat to France and saw that we could have achieved more – at home we could at least have got a point. But we are more sad about the match in Finland which we lost 2-1, because we were the better team for 80 minutes – to drop three points hurt a lot.
UEFA.com: What is the aim now?
Burger: The objective we set was to at least make it to second place, and to leave Finland behind us, so losing to them very narrowly is upsetting. But we could see in Finland that we are good enough to beat them at home. Against France we'll maybe lose nine out of ten matches, but we could achieve points in one, so maybe we can achieve a point against them and get second place that way. And maybe even be one of the best second-placed teams so we can reach the play-offs. It is difficult but still possible. But if we don't achieve that, I would say our next objective will be to focus on qualifying for EURO 2017, if we don't qualify for the World Cup.
UEFA.com: Looking back at 2013 qualification and that great win against Denmark, did it give you a lot of confidence to see that if everything works well in the team you can beat an opponent like that? They still managed to make it to the semi-finals ...
Burger: It was a big step in the right direction, even if there might still be a lot of steps to take for a big success. But it was extremely important for our confidence to get three points against that team.
UEFA.com: In the last couple of years Austria have qualified for European finals at Women's Under-17 and U19 levels – is this a hopeful sign?
Burger: You can see the development in Austrian women's football. The academy we've set up in recent years is a fantastic project, led by [national coach Dominik] Thalhammer. There are doing great work with the young players and I think you will see the impact of that even more in the next few years.
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